I recently shared some insights and tips I’ve learned about the craft of writing, something I’ve been doing actively since I was 16 years old, and wanted to formalize and share them with you.
I’ve been paid professionally to write and use my writing skills every day in my job now. The dividends of being a good (and ever improving) writer have been rich over my career, and I know will serve me in the future.
The simple truth though is this:
Learning to write well increases your business/career value and makes your life easier.
So here are some 18+ tips for those getting started writing more formally or professionally, or simply for those who realize the value of writing for your career and want to get better:
* Writing is one of the hardest things I do.
Even now, I still struggle. But it comes easier every time. Even the best writers would all agree that it is hard work. The end result you read from them is often so good because they’ve had years of experience, and then added to that a ton of time writing, editing, polishing, writing, editing and polishing. It’s hard. You’re not alone. You can do it!
* Just write.
The best way to get better is just to write as often as you can. Practice makes better. Find the lowest bar that gets you writing and start writing. So start a private journal and start writing. Start a blog and start writing. Get a Moleskine and start writing. But write, write, write.
* Write to get better and improve.
I’ve been writing since I was 16 years old. Every time I write, I get better. So … you guessed it … write, write, write.
* A blog or journal can be a great way to start the practice of writing.
I started by writing a Letter to the Editor of my local small-town newspaper. Then eventually I started a website and then a blog. Eventually I wrote for my college newspaper, then a couple of daily newspapers, stacking experience after experience on each other. Now I journal regularly.
Don’t know what to start writing about? Think about pain points, obstacles, challenges, things that make you mad, people who don’t do what you do right and start writing. If you’re writing for your private journal, write out your feelings. If you are cranky in the morning, write out what and why you’re cranky. If you’re happy, write out your joy.
* Perfect sucks.
Just write to communicate well with humans and don’t worry about every obscure nuance of grammar. Sure, before publishing your writing you should proofread it yourself and use appropriate grammar, but making sure every comma is in the right place and obsessing over minor details is a recipe for waste and failure.
I’m perfectly aware that some of you were turned off by the title of this post, and I’m OK with that. For the others, I’m glad you had enough sense of humor to read this far.
By the way, I also know this article is not perfect, far from it. But I believe it’s good enough to communicate what I want to share in the time I had to write it. (And good enough will always beat never shipped. More on this later.)
* Read good writing.
“On Writing Well” by William Zinsser is some of the best writing I’ve ever read as well as THE desktop reference for writing. Find someone’s writing you love to read yourself and pay attention to how they write. Most good writers follow a formula. If I want to read really good, sharp and smart writing, I look to the NY Times, Recommended articles on Pocket, longer form, feature magazines offline and on (like The Atlantic) and my favorite blogs (like Penelope Trunk).
* Have a specific person in mind and write to that person.
When I did my first blog series years ago, I wrote thinking about the professor who I was helping at the time. Sometimes I can get a jumpstart on this by opening up Gmail and putting the name of that person in the TO: field and simply start writing as I would an email to that person. Often that makes everything better and faster. I write more naturally and personally. This can work especially well for a sales page, by the way. (And yes, right now I’m writing this whole thing to someone in particular, knowing it’ll be useful to her.)
* Writing is persuasion.
Think about the reader and try to move them from Point A to Point B. You’re trying to persuade them to make a change, or do something. It helps me to think about a specific person I’m trying to persuade and I think about if that person were right in front of me how I would persuade them to my position. Then I start writing. If you’re having problems, pull back from the keyboard, look away from your monitor and think about a specific person you’re trying to move and voice the main key points you’d use.
* Outlining and/or mind mapping helps a lot.
I use mind maps prolifically now to jumpstart my writing process. In the past, I would open a text document and start writing out bullet point ideas of the key points I want to share. I’ve found getting out the key points and a skeleton of what you want to write helps tremendously.
* Write naturally.
It’s OK to use and adopt someone else’s formula, or their style, but write how you naturally communicate. It’ll come easier that way.
* Write to clarify and rehearse your thoughts, ideas and beliefs.
Write about things that piss you off, it’ll clarify your beliefs. Do so by explaining and defending your position thoroughly. Want to be better prepared for a talk, meeting, interview? Write it out. You’ll find in later conversations or when the event occurs it helps you be more fluid, confident and clear.
* Want to understand yourself better? Start a journal.
Free flow all your thoughts & feelings as you think them without editing or judgment. I’m doing this more and more, especially when I run into a problem or frustration and want to understand it and my reactions to it better.
* When someone asks you a question (whether it’s a client, boss, coworker, whatever) around your area of expertise or experience, use it to write a post about it.
You’ve probably taken for granted that you answer these questions so regularly that you’ve got the key points for your post ready to go. These make great blog posts for your business.
* Find a good editor.
Good editors make your writing better. Notice what they edit and ask questions about. It doesn’t have to be a formal “editor” just someone who has a good grasp of the language and has the time to help you fine-tune your writing and add perspective to it. It’s a fantastic way to improve. Most often if I write anything publicly I bounce it off a couple of people (my wife is typically the first person I ask).
* Writing online? Then write for skimmers.
We don’t read the same online as we do offline. Meaning offline we typically read word for word. Not online. We skim. Notice for yourself when you get a blog or online magazine. Do you skim or read word for word? Writing a long wall of text that someone else will read on a monitor is painful. That probably worked for essays in English class, but not the web.
Break it up with good natural paragraphs. That also means bolding key phrases, using subheads, bullet points, etc.
* Don’t write like you text.
I know I said write naturally, but seriously, be a tad more professional in your writing. In my text messages I use emoticons and hashtags and butcher the English language. Save that “special” writing for your BFFs in texts or SnapChat.
Or u wil b lol’d at 🙂
* Find your happy place and process.
Everybody is different. I prefer total silence and solitude. I can’t do serious writing in a noisy, busy coffeeshop. And I don’t listen to music when I’m writing.
Figure out how you work best and do that.
* Knowing what you are talking about makes writing so much easier.
Today, I wrote two short emails for our customers. That went super, super fast, because I’ve been doing this for 8+ years. So write about what you know. Think about your experience and expertise, the stuff you likely take for granted because you’ve been doing it for so long. It’s a great place to start and expand on later.
* Click Publish already!
Too many aspiring writers don’t actually take the final step and push the Publish button. If you leave everything you write in Draft, you’ll never have the opportunity to see how people respond to it. Even the negative remarks you might get will help you improve your writing and position. Or verify your message is resonating. Push Publish. Let your writing see the light of day and for others to be helped by it.
Founder of iThemes.com